Q&A with Family Support Practitioner Angela

How did COVID-19 impact the way you were able to support families in 2020?
2020 – Well what a year it was. In hindsight whilst it was somewhat crazy and at times surreal, it was also a tremendous learning experience both professionally and personally.

COVID-19 impacted everybody in different ways and as a Family Support Practitioner supporting families of children with life-threatening illness it changed the ways I was able to interact with some families. As I was working with a few families who sadly had children at end-of-life, I was able to continue seeing them in person all be it with PPE. The PPE whilst necessary was challenging in terms of supporting families at such a fragile time. I was able to continue to support other families by phone and online through zoom and teams and in most situations this bridged the isolation gap for families. There was plenty of relief however for some families when in person sessions were able to resume.

In your experience how did families cope with COVID-19? Where did you feel support was needed most?
Most families coped remarkably well during COVID-19 and my hunch is that is because they have vast experience in dealing with isolation and uncertainty due to their child’s illness. The extra pressure on families in terms of caring for their child without their regular support, as well as home schooling etc., was definitely challenging for many along with financial impact of job loss incurred by many families.

Initially some families felt relief in the sense of the pace of life slowed down dramatically, but soon after for many the isolation and exhaustion of caring alone became apparent, as well as the anxiety of their vulnerable child contracting the virus and what this may mean for them. Many families just needed a listening ear, to manage their anxiety and others needed a lot of support as they experienced the death of a child during COVID-19, meaning so many implications on the way they could say farewell and the support they could receive from loved ones.

How did donor support in 2020 help you care for families, and continue to do your work?
The ongoing support of donors to Very Special Kids meant that whilst in person contact was limited, families continued to have access to support without lapse throughout COVID-19 which was essential.

As we find COVID-19 normal in 2021 will you adjust your approach? Where do you see the greatest need for support moving forward for families?
I have learned that technology is a great tool for meeting with colleagues, and perhaps offering broader access to more remote communities through online programs. I have reaffirmed however that generally when it comes to supporting families that nothing can quite compare to the in-person connection that we offer families at Very Special Kids.

Moving forward many families need support to readjust to life in COVID-19 times, slowly building their confidence to emerge from the safety of their homes and integrate back into the community. This may be because they are still concerned for their child’s health and/or because sometimes bunkering down at home when life is so uncertain can feel very protective emotionally and physically.

You are now based in our Melbourne north office, what has been the shift in your focus?
Moving to the outer north region of Melbourne essentially means being able to focus on families in a more local way. I am looking forward to creating opportunities for families to connect with one another in a more convenient way and to building connections and relationships with other service providers in the area that may also be able to support the families we work with. Being able to travel to see families in a much shorter time or have families be able to come to a local office means more time for offering support and less time on the road.

I see 2021 as an opportunity to try some new programs locally and really understand what we can offer to best support the families in this area going forward.

What is your wish or hope for 2021, in terms of where would you like to see growth and support for your programs?
My wish and hope is that all the families Very Special Kids engage with feel supported through some very challenging times.